Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Music and Mindfulness

By Karen Beetle

More than anything else, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, of noticing what moves in our inner and outer worlds. Being alive is deeply fluid and to be in touch with this fluidity is to know this quality as a powerful human resource. To lose touch with our essential fluidity is often the beginning of physical and emotional problems. Often in therapy, movement of any kind is a sign that change and growth is underway – even if it is not visible on the surface. Judi England writes in her recent post about the power of music to enrich our lives and to support this dance of aliveness within.

Earlier this summer, I was having a conversation with one of my daughter’s high school friends about her upcoming college plans. After a rocky start last fall, she had come to claim her intention to major in music therapy and was switching colleges to begin a new program. And as I walked away from her I was delighted and full of happiness for this new opportunity in her world and the claiming of this new direction. I was also thinking – below the surface – I don’t really have any experience with music therapy and its benefits. At least not in my own life.

Over the next weeks, memories of my high school piano teacher came drifting back to me. I began playing clarinet in fourth grade. Band was fun and music lessons provided a very welcome break in the school day, but I was not in love with the clarinet. In ninth grade, I convinced my mother to get a piano and began taking piano lessons. As the emotional waters in my own life became more and more turbulent over the next months, silence and loneliness moved into my world. Every week, my piano teacher came into my home, sat with me on the bench and created with me a world of movement and life.

Duets were our favorite. Old time spirituals and light melodies rocked the emotion that I needed to move in my world. We switched parts often and I loved the challenge and the power of playing together. I also loved her presence next to me on the bench - sure and steady and kind. She never chided me for not practicing when my high school life got busier - and was more focused on what we created together than what I had or hadn’t done. Her visits in my home during these years brought warmth and care into my world at a very painful time. Her companionship ultimately helped me to find my way back to myself. As I write these words, my gratitude for her care and presence is immeasurable.

It was the joy and power of music that formed our bond – that allowed us to find each other and to build a relationship that celebrated presence, aliveness, and expression. The power of music therapy was closer than I knew. In a subtle yet profound way, it walked with my through the darkness and helped me find my way.

Karen Beetle is a therapist and mindfulness teacher in Albany, N.Y. This piece appeared first on the Albany Times Union's Holistic Health blog.

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